- The Lost Fleet: Outlands (#2)
- Published by Titan Books in June 2022
- Military SF
- 477 pages
Having dodged political disaster in the Alliance, John ‘Black Jack’ Geary now leads his fleet on a diplomatic mission to make contact with the aliens known as the Dancers. But surrounded by uncertain allies and with saboteurs within his own forces, has Black Jack been set up to fail . . ?
Not so long ago, I wrote about the difficulties of keeping a long-running series fresh. Does the author continue to write the story their readers have come to expect? Or do they change the formula, surprising but perhaps also alienating that same readership? As a wise man once said, stories grow in the telling. Twenty novels in, Jack Campbell’s epic military SF universe has grown far beyond the need to bring a fleet home. But twenty books is a long journey, and the question must be asked. Has that growth kept the series fresh, or has it made the universe unrecognisable?
One of the strengths of The Lost Fleet has been the way it’s been broken up into smaller series. rather than stretching a single storyline too far, Campbell deals with his material in manageable chunks. The original series saw Geary lead the titular fleet to safety over the course of six novels. The direct sequel series Beyond the Frontier saw a new mission for Black Jack. One of exploration, that featured aliens far more heavily than the original six. Running alongside that series was spin-off The Lost Stars, making the story larger than just Geary’s activities and tackling some weighty themes of empire-building while at it. That series ended rather abruptly as Campbell switched gears to write prequel series The Genesis Fleet, as well as a comic about a less famous member of the Geary family. While I enjoyed all of these stories, there was a sense of the universe sprawling.
And then came Boundless. If the Outlands trilogy does only one thing well, it is bringing together the disparate elements of the universe and turning them into a thrilling central narrative. Boundless was largely concerned with catching all the plot lines up to speed, and laying foundations – as is only right for the opening of a trilogy. With everything set up, Resolute is free to achieve its mission. And what an achievement it is. There are developments in this book I never saw coming. The plot takes unpredictable turns, there is a palpable sense of danger and mistrust surrounding well-established characters. Most shockingly of all is Ensign Duck. While I still hate animal companions as a trope, Ensign Duck earns his place. He can live. And he’s not the only non-human character to turn up.
All of this brings us back to that word. Growth. The Outlands trilogy is shaping up to be a gamechanger in the best way. It is still military SF through and through, but for for the first time in this series, the space combat is at a minimum. In this book, there is no pivotal engagement. This is a great thing. For multiple series we’ve seen soldiers waging war. Now we’re faced with a hard question. Just what is the role of the military in times of peace? And just how does a society step down from a war footing after a century of conflict? Maybe they shouldn’t. After all, there are still threats out there. The Kicks don’t get a look-in, but we do learn more about the Enigma aliens. Simply because humans are seeking a non-violent resolution, doesn’t mean that everyone shares in that goal.
Resolute is a book that shifts the Lost Fleet universe to new ground, while not forgetting where it came from. Yet again proving why Campbell is one of the modern masters of military SF.
If you enjoyed this book, you might also like:
Terms of Enlistment, by Marko Kloos
Planetside, by Michael Mammay
Artefact, by Jamie Sawyer